Football realignment plans derailed by league vote

South Whidbey’s football program nearly merged into a football-only

Plans to merge South Whidbey’s football program into a Class 1A football-only league next fall were recently shot down by Cascade Conference athletic directors and principals.

South Whidbey athletic director Paul Lagerstedt said the league rejected the plan on Jan. 27. He declined to say how he voted.

“It wasn’t unanimous,” Lagerstedt said. “There wasn’t anybody who was adamantly against it or for it. I think all of us really went into it with an open mind. We were trying to think out of the box.”

The proposed agreement would have combined football programs from the Northwest and Cascade conferences into two single-classification leagues. South Whidbey was proposed to join an eight-team, 1A league, while Cascade competitors Archbishop Murphy, Cedarcrest, Granite Falls and Lakewood were planned to join a 12-team, 2A league. The Cascade Conference currently consists of four 2A teams and four 1A teams. The merger would not have affected other sports.

“I think there’s some benefits to doing it and then I think there’s some drawbacks,” Lagerstedt said.

The plan was initiated to combat problems with competitive balance and a rising risk of injury. The goal was to assemble schools with similar student enrollment in order to level the playing field. The 1A conference was planned to include Cedar Park Christian, King’s, Lynden Christian, Meridian, Mount Baker, Nooksack Valley and Sultan. Cedar Park Christian, King’s and Sultan play in the Cascade Conference while Lynden Christian, Meridian, Mount Baker and Nooksack Valley compete in the Northwest Conference.

Postseason berths would have been decided by the final league standings, rather than a postseason crossover game with another district. The teams would have opened the season with three non-league games before playing each team in the league once.

Operating expenses, increased transportation costs and a conflicting junior varsity schedule were among the chief negatives to the proposed agreement, Lagerstedt said. The league was planned to be varsity only.

Because four teams would have been located north of Bellingham, travel times would have increased by up to an hour and a half.

“Our position was that it wasn’t good for us, in terms of schedule,” said South Whidbey School District Superintendent Jo Moccia. “It would have been lots of travel for our kids.”

Falcon head coach Michael Coe was excited about the prospect initially but disappointed to hear the plan didn’t come to fruition.

“There is that part of me that wishes we did because I know the competition level there is pretty good,” Coe said. “I would have loved to have been up there and to play in that conference and see where we could go with that. I really would have liked that.”

There are positives to be recognized, however, Coe said. Because there are only four 1A teams in the Cascade Conference, South Whidbey can secure a postseason berth by finishing third in the standings. The league’s scheduling is also subject to change. Coe said South Whidbey may play the league’s 2A teams in the first half of the season, while the second half will be against 1A teams. The change could make for dramatic finishes to the regular season.

Coe and Lagerstedt said the merger could potentially be revisited again sometime down the road.

“There is a slight possibility this could get revisited for team realignment,” Coe said. “Right now it looks like things are somewhat etched in stone.”